Grace Notes
A hopeful newspaper column ~ by Natalie Costanza-Chavez
Getting Through > Sunlight and Rhythms
Sunlight and Rhythms

Grace-Notes #37, Sunday 10/1/06

Sunlight

If you’ve ever gone to wake a baby – scratch that, no one ever wakes a baby. If you’ve ever gone to retrieve a wide awake baby from his crib in the earliest hours of morning because he is goo-ing and tweeting for you, you’ll recognize this: he’s standing up, little hands wrapped tightly around the top rail of the crib. He’s bouncing at the knees – up and down, up and down – in a joyful, jerking, kid-shake. His plastic diaper squeaks against the fuzz of his sleeper suit. He’s ready to go, start the day, buzzing like a warm and effective motor – energy to spare. “Pick me up!” he beams. All smiles; no tired. Vroom, vroom.

If you still wake up like a baby, lucky you.

This morning, when I heard the coffee-pot click on, my sleep shut brain barely sparked alive enough to think there was a problem with the clock. I’ve thought this every morning for two weeks. It’s too dark; it’s too early. The light is all wrong. Surely, it can’t be time to get up…

The light is all wrong.

My body says it’s not morning, yet the clock says, “Get up.” So I look, half-lidded around the room. No wood slat sun-shadows on the wall, no beach-shell white light shining in through the patchy weather stripping around the door, and the hall is still dark. The boys are silent. Even the dog is unmoving. Not morning.

Ahh, but it is. The sun is rising late for all of us. And into it we muddle, our poor bodies still dragging a cycle behind, coffee not quite helping, our kick gone flat. The autumn equinox has passed and the sun is shining for fewer hours every day. The light is changing patterns across our morning-widows, and our late afternoon windshields.

Our circadian rhythm, the basic cycle our body uses to time itself, is controlled by chemicals in the brain, but it is affected by light from the outside. Change the light, the rhythm stutters and has to readjust.

For generations we’ve known about winter blues, that sadness and depression can be linked to the seasons. Today it has a technical name; it’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder. I’d heard of it, usually called by its perfect acronym SAD, but I didn’t think we had to worry about it here in Colorado. It’s so bright. It’s so sunny. More than once I’ve thought about how hard it must be to adjust to the dark and gloom of winter in other climates, far from here, east of here.

Turns out that many of us have at least a mild flutter of light-changing-blues here in Colorado, too. The amount of sunlight available each day affects us – even though we may not notice it, even though we may not think about it, even though we can’t quite put our finger on what’s wrong. We are tired. We are zapped. We feel twinges of something passing quickly, but touching us none-the-less. We can’t quite call it melancholy, or wistfulness, or sadness, but it is a little bit of all of these things. It is like the slowing of a first song, before a second hum is found.

A friend told me we need to close our eyes and let the sun settle on our faces for 20 minutes a day. I thought, “Who does that?” “I can’t do that?” “Who had time to do that?”

And then I had a flash of memory: I am a child playing and I stop. I am alone and I sit on the curb, raise my head toward the four o’clock sun, and close my eyes. Everything stops except for the spread of heat and then the light, red and brushing inside me, on the backs of my eyelids, the sockets of my skull.

And the disk of the sun, for those moments takes me in, lighting and warming against the suggestion of chill to come.

Our rhythms need to reset.

Catch the sun in snatches if you have must.

Draw from the light for now. Sit on a bench, raise your face. Your hours will adjust, your rhythms return, and your body will rise to the season to come.